Remembering quintessential Lateef Adegbite
He was head and shoulders above his peers at every stage of his life where his story of academic excellence was enviably complemented by his quintessential character. Consequently, he attained eminence in the Legal Profession and in Public Service by merit and dint of hard work and never on account of his religious activism! The implication of this is that he never for once unduly used the Muslims’ slot in earning global reckoning for any purpose. He rather devoted the fruits of his success to Islam.
This is a rare feat in today’s parlance of religion where many owe their success a debt more to their religion than to their qualifications and competence! There arguably is no dissenting voice on this among his associates and acquaintances some of whom were interviewed by this writer two decades ago.
On 2nd April 1997, this writer met in Minna the late Wazirin Minna, Alhaji Umaru Audi, the old Northern State Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs who had arranged for Dr. Adegbite in 1971 a meeting with the late Sultan of Sokoto, that later culminated in the founding of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) in 1973. It was an extensive interview that revealed specific details of Dr. Adegbite’s role in the formation of the NSCIA through the interplay of Jamatu Nasr-il-Islam (JNI) and Western State Joint Muslim Organization (WESJOMO) with the Muslim Council. He, at that time, was Umaru Audi’s counterpart in the old Western State. Most remarkable was Audi’s statement that Dr. Adegbite “never hesitated to sacrifice his comfort and even his career for Islam.”
Barely one month earlier and specifically on 11th March 1997, the late Alake of Egbaland, HRH Oba Oyebade Lipede revealed to this writer in his Ake Palace, that, “Dr. Adegbite is a devout Muslim, a loyalist, who is truthful, honest, and a man of pleasant manner.” He further described him as “a leading Chief who is fearless in defending his Islamic faith and devoted to his duties in Egbaland.” Asked if the difference in their religious persuasion affects their relationship himself being a Christian and Dr. Adegbite, a Muslim, the Royal Father stated: “The traditional setting of Egbaland knows no difference between a Muslim and a Christian and this is what guides my relationship with him as we have the common goal of developing Egbaland.”
The late monarch added: “Dr. Adegbite is hardworking, dedicated and honest and when he was in Public Service as Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, he played a significant role in the struggle for the obaship throne by ensuring that the right person was appointed. He is humble and learned and I rely mostly on his legal advice for I know he will not deceive me. He is a major contributory factor to the development of several organizations in Abeokuta such as Abeokuta Lions Club which is a charitable organization taking care of the poor and the needy.”
Similar to the foregoing was the opinion of the late Grand Qadi of Niger State, Shaykh Ahmad Lemu who claimed to have carefully observed Dr. Adegbite over the years and found in him qualities of someone who was sincerely interested in Islam, the welfare of the Muslims and peaceful coexistence of Muslims and non-Muslims in Nigeria. This matches the view of the late Mogajingeri of Epe, Chief S.L. Edu who described him as “the greatest link between the South and the North, a reputable lawyer, distinguished business figure, respected scholar who devotes 90 per cent if not 100 per cent of his time to Islam so much that people wonder how he has time for the various Islamic issues he handled in Nigeria and abroad. “Alhamdulillah that his contributions are recognized the world over as you can hardly talk about Islam in Nigeria without mentioning Lateef Adegbite.”
The late Chief Missionary of Ansar-ud-Deen Society of Nigeria, Shaykh Ali Araazim Alaaya, applauded his humility and sense of sacrifice for Islam, citing instances of this (in 1997) which included a time when Dr. Adegbite came to deliver to him in person an invitation to a session of Muslim scholars under the auspices of the NSCIA
But, how was he perceived by Muslim monarchs? The Alaafin of Oyo, HRH Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III called him “a complete gentleman and exemplary Muslim leader,” while the Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Adetona, Ogbagba II, saw him as “warm, friendly, a good leader in the country and a patriot who is of high intellectual capacity.”
To the late Ataoja of Osogbo, HRH Oba Arasim Iyiola Matanmi III, “Dr. Adegbite does not look down on anyone and will come to check on you if he has not seen you for long.”
The late Hon. Justice Bashir Sambo of Abuja, the late Emir of Bida, the late Makaman Nupe, Alhaji Sulaiman Onyeama of Enugu and numerous others offered pleasant perspectives on him all of which may be summed in the words of the late Dr. Ismail Babatunde Jose, “when a man has reached the position of Founder-President of MSS, Founder of NAJOMO, Chairman of Southern States Council of Islamic Affairs, and Secretary-General of the NSCIA, I think he personifies Islam and that is the way I see Dr. Lateef Adegbite who, to me, is Islam in Nigeria.” May Allah continue to shower mercy on his soul.
• Dr. Rufai, immediate past Dean of Education, Sokoto State University, is a Jeddah-based Development Education Consultant on Central Asia and the Arab World.
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